On 8 March, Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, caused a stir at a women’s conference in Rome. In her opening remarks at the event, held on the occasion of International Women’s Day, McAleese — who is notably pro abortion and an advocate of the LGBT movement — called the Catholic Church “one of the last great bastions of misogyny”, and claimed that a hierarchy that is “homophobic and anti-abortion is not the church of the future.” She also lamented that women have too few positions of leadership in the Church, and criticized the institutional rejection of female priests as “codology [nonsense] dressed up as theology.” During the event, McAleese also insisted that “a clericalized Church will not survive and that will be good.” As can be seen in this video clip, McAleese has called Catholics to “bring down our Church’s walls of misogyny.” The former Irish President also called upon Pope Francis to reveal the findings of the commission on female deacons.
This women’s conference, entitled “Why Women Matter,” was organized by the association Voices of Faith, and the presence of Mary McAleese as a speaker was one of the main reasons that this group was not allowed to host the event on Vatican grounds. (Another speaker was Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, a lesbian Catholic woman defending LGBT rights in Uganda.)
McAleese, however, wrote to the pope, asking him for the reasons for this decision as made by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Pope Francis, it seems, did not answer that letter. But two members of Voices of Faith were invited to participate at this week’s pre-synodal meeting of 300 young people in Rome. As Voices of Faith — whose username, interestingly, is @vofwomen — commented on Twitter:
— Voices of Faith (@vofwomen) February 20, 2018
One of the two participants of the pre-synod, Alina Oehler, a 27-year old German theologian and journalist, was also present at the 8 March conference, and she is quoted on the Twitter account of Voices of Faith as follows:
— Kate McElwee (@dearmisskate) March 8, 2018
— Angelika Mendes-L. (@ange_mendes) March 8, 2018
The other pre-synod participant, Nicole Perone, a U.S. citizen, proposed that women be placed in leadership positions in the Church, as well. According to a America Magazine report:
New Jersey born Nicole Perone, who is studying for a Masters in Divinity at Yale University, spoke of the pressing need for “a cultural shift” in the Catholic Church’s attitude to women. “Women have every opportunity in the secular world—I could even be president of the United States!—so why not in the church? Is the church not doing itself a disservice by not giving more opportunities to women?” she asked. She wondered why women could not be appointed to lead such Vatican offices as the councils for the laity or the family.
What is important to know is that Voices of Faith has been hosting for several years in a row various women’s conferences on Vatican grounds. They hosted a 8 March International Women’s Day event in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, with only this year’s event being transferred over to the Aula of the Jesuit Curia in Rome which is officially not part of the Vatican.
The close collaboration with the Vatican can also be seen in the fact that Caritas International – a Vatican institution – handed out a women’s prize at the 2015 event in Rome. This prize was given in order to honor “women as sowers of development” which included a donation of 10,000 euro for projects in support of food security led by women.
At the same 2015 conference, there were several speakers present who promoted the idea of female priests. According to a National Catholic Reporter article, four women – among them Gudrun Seiler, journalist of the German section of Vatican Radio – lamented that this topic was closed off:
For example, while the topic of women’s ordination was only discussed tangentially, all four women addressed the jarring lack of women in ministry in the church and in leadership positions in the Catholic hierarchy.
“We are told that the question of ordination is ruled out,” said [Tina] Beattie, a noted theologian at the University of Roehampton in London.
“If we’re asked to accept that and respect it, we have to see that in every single other situation, there is full and equal participation of women’s leadership in the church — that every single position that does not require ordination is equally filled by men and women,” she said.
“What I would dream is a church that proclaims the full equality and dignity of male and female as made in the image of God should be an absolute beacon to the world,” Beattie said.
While Voices of Faith seems to be currently holding back on the question of female priests – referring to Pope Francis’ words that that door is closed and saying that female priests is not officially on its agenda – the organization nevertheless retweeted the following comment:
@vofwomen : @lukehansensj : A call to the priesthood or diaconate for women, is a joy and very painful. It is so painful because it is unrealistic for them at this point, and worse, they don’t feel free to talk about it.
— Deborah Rose-Milavec (@DebRoseFC) March 8, 2018
The Jesuit priest just quoted here is Father Luke Hansen, S.J., who is a contributing editor to Father Antonio Spadaro’s journal Civiltà Cattolica. Hansen was a speaker at the 2018 women’s conferences as organized by Voices of Faith in Rome, but has been following its events for years. At this year’s event, he spoke about female deacons, as he himself reports in an America Magazine article:
In response to other questions, I spoke about my hopes for the Papal Commission on the Diaconate of Women and of the joy and pain of women who experience a call from God to serve within the Catholic Church as ordained ministers, but live with the reality that it is not possible to fulfill that vocation today.
Let us now return to two of the Voices of Faith participants at this week’s pre-synod meeting in Rome. Alina Oehler, who had been a speaker at this year’s 8 March event in Rome, later wrote a glowing report on the speech delivered by Mary McAleese, calling it “brilliant” and saying that this event “is a moment in my life that I will never forget.” She adds: “Also I suffer under the fact that women are often not taken seriously in the Church and that the most important and most visible leadership positions are still connected with Holy Orders.” In another article written in 2016 for the German newspaper, Die Zeit-Christ&Welt (issue 22/2016), Oehler joyously supported Pope Francis’ decision to set up a commission on female deacons. While acknowledging that Pope Francis had closed the door to female priests, she argues in favor of “at least something, rather than nothing,” in the sense that even while female deacons might not be able to receive ordination, they might receive an “ordination light,” a kind of blessing, rather than a real ordination. She says: “I would prefer an ‘ordination light’ over an ‘ordination zero’.” In light of previous historical examples of how women even counseled popes in the past – see St. Catherine of Siena – Oehler now wonders, however, whether such a female deaconate would be sufficient “for more influence.” She continues, saying:
Some people even would wish that great Church women become cardinals and thus can elect a pope. Francis said in 2013 about this idea “he who thinks of women as cardinals is suffering a bit of clericalism.” I myself would counter with the words that especially he who wishes to exclude women from influential positions suffers under clericalism.
Oehler, in an e-mail to OnePeterFive, stressed that in the meantime, she has been changing her ideas a little. However, even this year, as was shown above, she has still called for female cardinals.
As another young German participant at this week’s Rome gathering has reported, the issue of female priests has already been put on the table.
A fundamental question is this: since Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church as a means of salvation for mankind, and has established the Seven Sacraments as the main means to that end, and also chose men to administer those Sacraments – why should any woman have an influential role over something she has not been called to administer?
If God chooses a woman to have influence in the Catholic Church for the sake of the salvation of souls, He will find His means to make sure she does, as He has done in the past. As He has done with the Blessed Mother herself, St. Joan of Arc, and with St. Catherine of Siena. In the meantime, we women should make sure that the Little Ones grow up in the Faith and have a happy, healthy, and holy childhood — without their being uprooted and shoveled around from one day care center to another.